Personality Summary and Analysis by Carl Sandburg: 2022

Carl Sandburg- Swedish by descent, Carl Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois, on 6 January, 1878. He and his family had a rather frugal lifestyle amidst the American War and Carl spent a lot of time doing odd jobs around the country. Later in life, he found substantial support in Philip Green Wright, an English professor who published his first poetry collection. Carl met his partner Lillian while in the Wisconsin Social Democratic Party and raised three daughters with her over the course of a whopping sixty years. His anthology “Complete Poems” (1950) won him a Pulitzer Prize and several of his collections were continually published spanning both the world wars.
Personality- “Personality” by Carl Sandburg is an observatory poem about an ordinary character in the world, here being a police reporter in an identification bureau. It narrates the lifestyle of a mediocre policeman who works with criminals as normally as he goes back home and follows his daily routine. Sandburg constantly refers to the uniformity between his professional and personal lifestyle as the “same print of the thumb”.

Setting of Personality-

The poem is set in the first World War era, when Americans led a menial livelihood and almost all of the States consisted of the working class labourers. The poem speaks of the musings or the thoughts of a policeman about several instances he encounters and the people he, or his ‘thumb’ has come across in this life. It describes these experiences as being extremely different in nature, but belonging to the same person, and uses his thumb as an element of monotony. The War era is reflected in the many kinds of people he sees in his work area.

Poetic Devices in Personality-

Symbolism – The ‘thumb’ is identified with the monotony of the protagonist’s​ personality.
Repetition – “(only one) thumb” to emphasise on precisely one subject.


The poem is repetitive but has no significant rhyme scheme.

Summary of Personality-

The poem “Personality” by Carl Sandburg opens with a rather prosaic introduction, the musings of a police reporter in his Identification Bureau. It continues to speak of the different phases the reporter has faced during his day of work and how his “thumb”, used as a symbol of his personality, has faced vastly different situations​ in a similar manner. The thumb has seen this reporter engage himself romantically with forty women, but remain engaged to the same persona, his thumb. It has witnessed him don a hundred secret identities, but none of them have altered the same thumb. This thumb has been through a hundred wars and violent battles around the world and won a load of accolades for the reporter, and yet has not changed its imprint. The poem changes its position then to a more serene atmosphere, the reporter’s house, where his mother is remembered as “giving” him his thumb, which has not changed since he was born. It was the same thumb where his mother used to kiss him goodbye in his childhood days. The poet further mentions all humans coming out of the same source i. e. the mother’s womb, and still fighting their own kind just for acquiring space for themselves in this whole wide world. These thumbs now, are no longer alike, as they bewilder the poet with their incongruities. The poet concludes the poem saying even this might be understandable only by the God in the celestial skies, who might be able to explain the inside stories of these personalities or “thumbs”.

Critical Analysis of Personality-

The poem “Personality” by Carl Sandburg is an introspection of a day in the life of a police reporter and the many instances he has to face being the same person he is. These instances are fairly his routine and seem vastly different to the reader. They range from personal victories to domestic temperaments, and the one thing that is common in all of them is the personality of the reporter i. e. symbolised by his thumb, that remains the same throughout the poem. Carl penned down this poem during the tough labour years of America, which is clear in the manner the reporter’s day is described. The war as a backdrop to this poem is mentioned several times in his victories and in the wars and battles he has to fight crossing large distances to win these. The poem includes a sentimental portion going back to the reporter’s mother, saying the thumb he has now, is the same one given to him from his mother’s womb, which is symbolic of the unchanged nature of the reporter. Conclusively, the poet marvels at how, born from a woman’s womb, humans grow up to fight each other for land and other such physical properties and these are the thumbs or the personalities that can never be and are not alike. These ruthless stories of man hurting man and how their “thumbs” can allow it, is something that can only be understood by God.

Central Idea of Personality-

The theme of the poem is the prevalence of the personality of a staunch police reporter whose life involves his romantic facet as well as his duty. Throughout the poem, the verses continue from his ladies to his secret identities and his endeavours over the battlefield, his accolades and achievements in the same. The person facing this is also the same one with the same nature and the same thumb. This uniformity is emphasised on as the poet mentions the reporter’s mother’s​ womb providing him with the very same thumb he puts down to rule today, and how the brethren of same origin can turn against each other, developing different thumbs on the war field.

Tone of Personality-

The tone of “Personality” is an urging text telling about a reporter’s nature and manner that remains the same. No matter how many different experiences he has, be it his forty women, or his hundred identities, or even his accolades on the battlefield, he is the same person underneath and this is proven by his thumb, which is a symbol for the personality of the reporter and remains the same throughout. The tone is continually positive and gradual in the description of this reporter’s life.
Conclusion- The poem is a retrospective account of the personality of a police reporter in the various occasions in his lifetime from when he is born with the same thumb he maintains, throughout his life. The poet relates this to the uniformity of human personalities and how they get retained through romanticism and war, no matter what. What bewilders the poet is how this people with the same thumb coming from a womb are all turning out as violent and ruthless, extremely apart and wholly different thumbs, but he believes only God has an answer to this difference and the stories of these thumbs.

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